Defence Minister Jason Kenney sees his 2011 decision to ban face coverings at Canadian citizenship ceremonies to be a common sense decision rooted in the essence of what it means to be Canadian. He made the comment Tuesday to local media and roughly a dozen Conservative party supporters at the campaign office of Sherbrooke Conservative candidate Marc Dauphin.
“This goes to the heart of our shared identity and citizenship,” Kenney said. “We believe that at the moment that one becomes a Canadian citizen, it must be done with transparency, openness, and pride; one must be proud of one’s dedication to the country.”
Kenney downplayed the suggestion that the issue is a smokescreen to keep Canadians from focusing on more serious issues, pointing out that the current discussion stems back to what he called an “administrative decision” in November of 2011
“When I announced this in 2011, I really didn’t expect this to be a terribly big controversy,” The Minister of Defence said. “I thought it might get some initial attention back then, as it did, but I thought that what I proposed was just so blindingly obvious and uncontroversial that I am surprised, frankly, that the opposition parties have made it an issue.”
Kenney also strongly opposed the notion that the decision infringes upon religious rights.
“I think it defames Islam to suggest that forcing women to obscure themselves is a tenet of that religion,” he said. “This is a cultural practice rooted in a view of women which is shared by only a small minority of Muslims and is not shared at all as a Canadian value.
Kenney pointed out that the legitimacy of the wearing of a niqab as an expression of freedom of religion has been deeply questioned by a variety of scholars and suggested that the majority of Canadians support the decision. Emphasizing that the Conservative party is ready to back up the decision with a change in the law if needed, the Minister argued that the matter is getting far more attention than is called for.
“It hasn’t exactly been a topic of our campaign, but people believe it is a topical issue,” Kenney said. “It’s not the conservative party that’s been making this an issue, it’s the public.”
Kenney came to the ridings of Sherbrooke and Compton-Stanstead as a part of a province-wide show of support for local candidates. While singing praises of his party’s accomplishments, Kenney emphasized the worth and validity of Marc Dauphin as Sherbrooke’s Conservative candidate.
“We must have strong voices with great experience from a variety of backgrounds,” The Defence Minister said. “Mr. Dauphin brings with him a great experience and expertise from Afghanistan. These things will serve him very well as a representative of the people of Sherbrooke and also as a specialist on matters of defence, national security and health.”
Though deferring to his local compatriot for the finer local details, Kenney said that on a whole he feels that there is a growing support for the Conservative Party across the country as the election approaches.
With regard to local concerns, Kenney was asked how the Conservatives would respond to the needs of Sherbrooke’s crumbling armouries. The Minister responded that he was not up to date on the condition of all of the hundreds of armouries across the country, but reminded those gathered that the government recently set aside resources to help maintain and improve armouries across the country, as well as to bolster the reserves.
Dauphin, meanwhile, explained that he is very familiar with the local armoury situation and has made a commitment to support the local military infrastructure.
“There are four military units here in Sherbrooke, something extraordinary for a city of this size,” the former combat doctor said. “I know the armouries well because I was the one who ordered one of them closed temporarily.”
Dauphin pointed out that $1.6 million has already been committed to the work and said that he would be putting a priority on seeing the William Street armoury repaired.
“I will take note from Marc of what work needs to be done here in Sherbrooke,” Kenney added.